Building Better Police Leaders

Building Better Police Leaders

Andy Singh and Dr Christine Owen

Building Better Police Leaders - Collective Leadership, Emergent Knowledge and Professional Development

Andy Singh and Dr Christine Owen


Between 2015 and 2018 the Australian Institute of Police Management (AIPM) partnered with Queensland Police Service and the Australian Federal Police to explore new approaches to enhancing police leadership capabilities. Specifically, these partnerships addressed two of the policing’s most cherished professional capabilities – the role of police commanders in times of critical emergency and the changing of police culture - toward a more adaptive and inclusive approach of collaborative leadership. At the core of these activities, was the exploration of leader-leadership capabilities, but in the context of public safety command and in the service of building collective leadership capability.

These partnerships have created emergent knowledge within Australian policing, influencing a renewed interest in the development of command capabilities and cultural change in a number of Australian police organisations.

The partnerships are the product of a collective form of leadership, both within the AIPM as the educational partners, within relevant jurisdictions as the learning organisation, and in the union between the AIPM and the agency concerned. The very model of co-development and co-delivery serves as an example for the attributes of collective leadership to be explored through the participant and organisational learning journey.

This paper maps the challenges and opportunities revealed through engagement with two jurisdictions: the Australian Federal Police and the Queensland Police Service. These partnerships, along with their educational and research outcomes, provide an opportunity to consider the limitations and application of generalist theories of leadership and management into culturally and contextually rich professional domains. It suggests education and capability development in complex environments are processes of exploration in the first instance, examination and explanation in the substantive phases, and exploitation to scale in the final phase.

3 Key Learnings:

Shared Journey + Emergent Knowledge = Professional Knowledge


Collective Leadership
From the concept of the heroic leader
To collective responisibility and capability on times of crisis

Emergent Knowledge
From codified professional knowledge
To rapidly changing new knowledge

Professional Development
From internal and external development providers
To codesigned - co-delivered learning experiences

Ten Insights

1. Leadership Expectations
There has been a step change in expectations and requirements in both organisational and operational leadership roles.

2. Collective Leadership
Contrary to 30 years of developing leaders, the focus is increasingly shifting to developing collective leadership

3. Co-Design - Using partnerships to build bridges from here to there
Designing, building and delivering responses was an exercise in co-design and co-delivery

4. Time and Space
Building collective leadership capacity takes time and space

5. Look and Listen
If the observation and reflection is among the most important individual leadership learning skills
Listening and sharing is among the most important collective leadership learning skills

6. The disruption of research
Our traditional reliance upon research for validation has limitations
Time is its enemy
Contextual and cultural entanglements undermine the validity of traditional research

7. The Value of Research
Research is an important element of trust within co-designed projects
Not as umpire but as co-contributor to learning on a shared journey

8. Emergent Knowledge
Emergent knowledge is an outcome of co-design and co-delivery
Identifying emergent knowledge is not a well developed skill

9. Building continuums not cohorts
Continuous learning at individual, collective and organisational levels requires different scaffolds
Episodic developments need to evolve to career long learning and development

10. Learning and leadership are culturally relevant
Collective leadership, emergent knowledge and professional development are internal activities of deliberately developmental organisations.


Is the AIPM able to apply the same techniques to another police and emergency services organisation and achieve the same results? Not a chance.

Public safety in Australia and New Zealand is an outcome of the operations and cultures of proud, large organisations – some volunteer, some career. They are not easy to turn toward the ill winds of the future.

Our lesson from working with QPS and the AFP, is they need to be turned from the inside, with ownership from within, and the turn being the result of collective will and energy.

The role of the AIPM in all this, was like the Beagle to Charles Darwin, Charles Ulm to Kingsford Smith or Joseph Banks to Captain Cook - we supported the expedition of learning; we helped create, through co-designed professional development holding environments, experiments where new leadership could be trialled. We helped acknowledge and record insights, through feedback and discussion, which become emergent knowledge. We helped shape a small cohort of collective leadership, embarking on their mission to change their organisation.

A shared journey for all. A huge learning experience for us and the AIPM.

Read the full paper here